UKYA review: Proud, compiled by Juno Dawson

Proud is Stripes Book’s third YA anthology and the second to consciously focus on a representation gap in the YA market. Like last year’s A Change is Gonna Come, this book is a triumph and strongly recommended as an addition to classroom and library shelves.

The genius of boosting representation by anthology is in the implicit message that there is not just one voice to be heard. This book offers ten stories and two poems which feature different aspects of LGBT experience, each accompanied by artwork. All work is created by LGBT-identifying creators, and their interpretation of the theme of pride is as multifaceted and various in tone and genre as the rainbow symbol emblazoned on the book itself. Both the writing and the artwork covers a range of styles and genres, offering a real taster of what is (or will be) available from LGBT creators producing work aimed at the YA market. Again, with an eye to broadening the representation available, the collection features stories by four previously unpublished writers, all of whom are bound to now become more well-known. (The two ‘new voice’ writers from the Change collection both have novels releasing this year…)

If you are a teacher reader of this blog, you may be interested to see the teaching resources (which I produced) for this text, available at the publisher’s website. I focused on key skills required for GCSE English, such as analysis of language and of structure, and evaluation skills, as well as A Level Media and Lit and writing skills. I had the AQA and Edexcel specs in mind while producing these, but was thinking about broad skills practice rather than specific exam questions.

It’s both impossible and unfair to talk of favourites in so broad-ranging a collection, as so much of that is down to personal taste. And yet, there isn’t space here to review each piece. Please know that I enjoyed ALL of the writing in this book and would happily rate each piece separately at least 4 stars on Goodreads. What allows me to rate the collection as a whole 5 stars is its breadth, particularly in terms of genre and tone and the sheer delight I felt as a reader in picking my way through these various pieces.

I loved the reworking of Pride and Prejudice as a queer high school romcom. If you are teaching P&P, you MUST explore I Hate Darcy Pemberley by Karen Lawler, sassily illustrated by Kameron White. It’s a glorious insertion into Austen scholarship which presents key conflicts engagingly and relevantly for contemporary readers, while offering plenty of affectionate nods for those familiar for the source material.

On the Run by Kay Staples initially grabbed my attention as it’s set near my adopted hometown of Leicester, clearly chosen for its vague identity as a city and lack of glamour. I really enjoyed the wry details of the somewhat miserable Travelodge as setting for these teens’ high drama, and particularly appreciated the accurate portrayal of a character’s clinging to and enumerating ‘certainties’ in times of rapid change. Alex Bertie’s artwork with careful use of white space underscores this aspect, I feel.

Finally (because I limited myself to three…) I was thrilled to find fantasy in the collection in the form of Cynthia So’s delightful fable The Phoenix’s Fault, with the dramatic accompanying art by Priyanka Meenakshi. This richly symbolic tale of a young girl realising her true desires is beautifully entrenched in mythic language and landscape, with magical creatures.

These appear alongside many other brilliant examples, including David Levithan and Moira Fowley-Doyle’s pieces which both use form in unusual ways, Simon James Green’s wonderfully ‘light touch’ writing Penguins, Michael Lee Richardson’s amazing and complex cast, Tanya Byrne and Fox Benwell’s tales of fear and bravery and the poems by Caroline Bird and Dean Atta, which zoom in on particular details of LGBT+ experience, in the way that only poetry can.

So, as I’m sure is clear, I am definitely recommending this collection. The one part I haven’t yet mentioned is the foreword by trans author Juno Dawson, which outlines very clearly why the collection is important. She shares part of her own history for context, as well as some of the political background – such as Section 28, which forbade the ‘promotion’ of homosexual lifestyles in schools between 1988 and 2000 (yes, 2000), effectively gagging teachers from even acknowledging that LGBT people exist, never mind that it’s a normal/acceptable/healthy way to be. The ramifications of this haven’t yet really left education, so it is important that we grab opportunities like the resource that this book offers.

Proud is out now from Stripes Books and available in all book outlets.

Published by Beth Kemp

Teacher of English, writer, blogger, reader, mother, feminist

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